If Shakespeare was alive today, he would have been a rapper, spitting lyrics over beats and battling with the best of them.
Ok, maybe not, maybe he’d just be a critically acclaimed writer/director combination, but I’ve been listening to Rap and Rap Battles recently and something in them struck me.
My music taste varies considerably, in my youth I was a typical ‘Metal Head‘, with the long hair and black clothing, and whilst I’d have denied it back then, I’ve always enjoyed a cheesy pop song. Nowadays I’m far less judgmental, I’ll listen to anything and, if it’s catchy, I’ll be singing along. Since I don’t understand music (I don’t play a single instrument), I don’t hear how ‘technical‘ a certain song is; it’s not the Lens I see through. I understand words though, and lyrics stand out to me.
Speaking of words, I love Shakespeare. I’m not a mega fan, I can’t tell you where each quote comes from, but I’ve seen a majority of his plays now (either at the RSC or via the Live Streams into a Cineworld Cinema). One thing I love about Shakespeare, more than anything, is his ability to manipulate his language, his ability to twist a phrase. Shakespeare even manages this in a play title, lets take ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘, which actually has three meanings. Much ado about nothing, where ‘nothing‘ means literally ‘nothing‘, thus making a big deal out of something that isn’t, a mountain out of a molehill if you will. The second meaning is the word ‘noting‘, which would have been a near homophone in Elizabethan times, and thus meaning to make a great deal out of gossiping, literally ‘noting‘ what other people are doing. The third, and raunchier interpretation, is due to ‘nothing’ being slang for ‘An O Thing‘ in Elizabethan times, meaning, quite bluntly, a Vagina. This makes the third meaning of Much Ado, to mean making a great deal out of sex, another running theme of the play.
This is what I think ties Shakespeare to Rap. Good rap is more than someone speaking fast over a beat, its the ability to turn and twist a phrase. Poetry creates an illusion, it can portray emotion, it can paint pictures and take you places. A good poem leaves me with a lasting feeling, and whilst there’s cross over between Poetry, Spoken Word, and Rap, I feel the latter relies far more heavily on the ‘clever‘ one liners that are great in the moment. Is it more fleeting? Perhaps. However, the most quotable of Shakespeare is the stand-out lines, the ‘Country Matters‘. If you sit and break down rap lyrics, you realise the amount of ways they can make a phrase turn, the double, or even triple, entendres. There’s such play on words, irony, pop-cultural references, political statements, that a comparison to our favourite playwright is easily made. Sure, there’s also a lot of false bravado and sex talk, but isn’t that basically Shakespeare too?
The reason I’m writing this isn’t really to tell you Shakespeare would have been a Rap artist, instead it’s to analyse what I like, and something that’s occurred to me this week is that I like Shakespeare and Rap for similar reasons. Shakespeare grips me when a line stands out, Rap gets me when a line makes me jaw drop in a similar fashion. To boil it down, what I simply love is language and an ability to use it. Language is such an amazing gift that we’ve been granted and it’s important to note that people are utilising it all over the world, in so many different mediums. It’s not just the classics we should look to for our inspiration. Authors write with poetic lines, whilst Poets weave stories through their stanzas. Genres converge, and I think some people see it whilst others refuse to look at other mediums due to the culture that surrounds them. Basically, I’m saying take a look at everything around us, challenge yourself and see where writing is being used differently. There’s enough room in this world for anything, and we should seek inspiration in everything.